Into The Wild (2007)

DVD Cover (Paramount)
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Overall Rating 81%
Overall Rating
Ranked #179
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After graduating from Emory University, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandons his possessions, gives his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of characters that shape his life. --IMDb
Review by bluemeanie
Added: October 22, 2007
Best. Movie. Ever? Well, maybe we won't go that far, but "Into the Wild" is definitely one of the best films of the year and an almost certain Academy Award contender. Damn. I've done gone and spoiled the outcome of this review. Screw it. "Into the Wild" is the latest film from Sean Penn, the actor turned director who gave us "The Crossing Guard" and "The Pledge", two films starring Jack Nicholson that were only glimpses of what he would eventually be able to do. "Into the Wild" is a personal film for Penn, obviously. He was only allowed to turn the life of Christopher Johnson McCandless into a film after seeking the permission of the family. Other directors had tried, but none had managed to achieve. Penn did. The passion he has for this story is dripping off every single frame. "Into the Wild" is directed with zeal and flair that most veteran directors would not be able to muster with the same level of innocence and beauty as Penn. "Into the Wild" captures the essence of nature, while also showing us the turbulent of life of a person who thinks he is meant for greater things in this world, and isn't going to let anyone stand in his way. I applaud director Sean Penn and his cast for bringing this story to screen, and in such a thought provoking way.

Almost immediately after graduating from college, Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsch) sets out on his own. He turns all of his life savings over to charity, packs up some books and clothes and sets out to find his own way in the world. His parents (William Hurt & Marcia Gay Harden) are yuppies who think money is the key to everything, and Chris has grown tired of listening to them and dealing with secrets they have been keeping for years. His sister, Carine (Jena Malone) is probably his best friend, and she narrates a chunk of the film. The film chronicles Chris' journey from his apartment in Atlanta, Georgia, to the Alaskan wilderness, where he eventually succumbs to the cruelties of the natural world. He meets Rainey (Brian Dierker) and Jan (Catherine Keener), two hippies who have a freestyle sort of approach to everything. They hit it off well, though Jan worries about Chris not keeping in touch with his family. Turns out she has a son that has ran away too and knows what it feels like for a mother to be without a child. He meets Wayne (Vince Vaughn) and works for him on a farm, until the F.B.I. come and take Wayne away for some less than reputable activities. Chris and Wayne share a weird sort of bond that carries throughout the film, via Chris' writings. He meets Tracy (Kristen Stewart), a 16-year-old singer/songwriter who develops affection for him, until he has to go. And, finally, he meets Ron (Hal Holbrook), an elderly leather engraver who doesn't understand what Chris is doing, but develops a friendship with him nevertheless. All of these journeys are spliced together with scenes of Chris in Alaska, trying to survive, until one mistake turns out to be something that changes the course of his life, and ends it, forever.

To say "Into the Wild" is a coming-of-age film would be too simple. Chris has already come of age. He's a man when the film begins, and far wiser than a lot of adults. This film is more about a person doing what he thinks he has to do to overcome a past that troubles him. But I found a lot of selfishness in the character of Chris McCandless, akin to the same reaction I had to Timothy Treadwell in "Grizzly Man". Both were men who didn't care as much for the people around them as they did for themselves. "Into the Wild" showcases Chris as someone who wants to live the way he wants to live and doesn't care how it affects the people around him. There are several times when you look at him and think - what a stupid kid. Doesn't he know better? Doesn't he know what he's doing to the people who love him? We watch as Chris goes on these misadventures with these various people, each of them compelled to find out more about him because of his magnetic personality. But what I also saw was Chris seeking something he needed out of these people. I saw Rainey and Jan as surrogate parents; Wayne as a surrogate older brother; Tracy as a surrogate sister; and Ron as a surrogate grandfather. All of this time, when Chris thought he was alone, he wasn't because he had all of these various people with him. When he does, finally, find himself alone, it turns out to be not nearly as enticing as it once seemed. "Happiness is a feeling best shared" is one of the last things he writes, and it sums up the entire picture, for me, perfectly.

You can almost bet on Emile Hirsch receiving a Best Actor nomination. If he doesn't, I will be more than a little shocked. Boy, does he deserve it. Not only does he drop some scary weight for the end of the film, he totally commits to Chris in a very authentic way. He plays Chris with such innocence and energy that it's impossible not to love him, even though you don't necessarily think he's going down the right path. I also don't see a world where Hal Holbrook doesn't receive a Best Supporting Actor nomination. He is at the top of his game and delivers one of the most heartfelt and genuine performances of recent memory. That man just knows how to act. The rest of the cast are marvelous also, especially Brian Dierker and Catherine Keener as Rainey and Jan. Keener, especially, evokes so much emotion and sympathy with her character. She can't bare to see Chris go the same way her son went but also knows she can't stop him. William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden don't have a lot to do, but they do it so well. Even when they're not saying a word, they're speaking volumes on the screen. But, it's Emile Hirsch's performance that carries the film. He is the film. Sean Penn has managed to extract a career defining performance from him. Oh, what the hell - might as well mention this too - Vince Vaughn is a riot in this film. A real riot.

I loved "Into the Wild". I loved the gorgeous cinematography, the amazing script, the dazzling performances, the Eddie Vedder penned ballads - everything. Sean Penn has crafted this film so well - he knows exactly how to make this material works and he sells it. He makes the ending into something far less tragic, because it's not the end that's important - it's the journey. My suggestions to the Academy would be: Emile Hirsch for Best Actor, Hal Holbrook for Best Supporting Actor, Catherine Keener for Best Supporting Actress, Sean Penn for Best Adapted Screenplay, Sean Penn for Best Director, Eddie Vedder for Best Original Song and "Into the Wild" for Best Picture. This really was a super, super film. I can't wait to see it again. And for a two and a half hour film to keep me so enthralled and so invested - that's a huge testament to the filmmakers. "Into the Wild" is currently playing in limited release, but it's slowly expanding to a theatre near you. I hope you get a chance to see it. Until then, read the book. It just makes the experience more enjoyable.

Ashlee #1: Ashlee - added 03/14/2008, 04:31 PM
this movie is just a little long at 148 minutes, but it's worth it. it's sad, touching, emotional, well written. some of the scenes, a lot actually, are very beautiful scenes. the acting is also good, and it doesnt help that emile hirsch is very good looking ♥
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